A depressed economy and cuts in state education have trickled down to Mancos School District Re-6, forcing teachers into better-paying jobs and threatening the quality of education for youth attending Colorado’s longest-operating school.
To secure a better future for its 399 students, the district is again asking voters for a mill-levy increase to help alleviate the revenue loss, retain and recruit quality teachers and support K-12 education programs.
Since the 2009-10 school year, the district has suffered a loss of revenue totaling $384,140 and losses are expected to continue, according to Superintendent Brian Hanson.
The reduction is due to a combination of devalued property assessments tied to the district’s mill levy, cuts in state education, declining enrollment and rising health-care costs for teachers and staff.
“Those cuts in revenue for a school our size are significant so we are asking the voters to approve an additional $276,000 per year to help offset those cuts,” Hanson said.
“It is really a campaign for the kids, because if we can’t retain and recruit quality staff, then programs and classes for students would have to be cut.”
The ballot question, called a mill-levy override, asks voters to approve 5.379 additional mills.
The district is one of the lowest-paying schools in Southwest Colorado, explained Jen Paschal, a member of the Mill Levy Campaign Committee, a situation that has consequences.
“We had a teacher ready to start the next day and Durango called her up and offered $8,000 more in salary, so she had to take it,” Paschal recalled. “The cost of living in Mancos is high and a lot of our teachers can’t afford to live here, so it is a myth that teachers are overpaid. They spend their own money on classroom supplies and often have the extra costs of commuting here.”
The administration learned a lesson after a similar tax proposal was shot down last year, so this time they are asking for less money.
“One of the things that the community didn’t like about the previous proposal was that [the mill levy] didn’t sunset, so we decided if we ask again we will have it sunset in seven years and that is what we did,” Hanson explained. “We are hoping that in seven years, the economy will have recovered and the state will be fully funding education again.”
If the measure passes, property taxes on a $100,000 home (assessed value) would increase $3.57 per month. The increase would expire in 2019.
Hanson said the extra cost to the community will be alleviated somewhat when a 1992 bond for the school’s performance center is paid off in December.
As everyone tightens the belt on their budgets, the Mancos school district is keen to show they are cutting back as well, reports the Mill Levy Campaign Committee.
“Brian Hanson has done an excellent job of retaining staff and cutting costs, without big layoffs. Where others have had to cut art and music programs, he hasn’t, but there is only so much you can cut. Right now we are bare-bones,” Paschal said.
Recent budget cuts and savings include frozen salaries; reduced staff through attrition ($202,121); reduced instructional supplies ($66,112); elimination of four teacher’s- aide positions ($49,127); reduced funds for professional development ($6,620); and no maintenance projects.
Restructuring administration also has saved the district money. Two principals were reduced to one, saving $21,625; the counselor position was reduced to one full-time position that absorbs the registrar responsibilities; and sharing transportation services with the Dolores district saved $10,686.
Total savings amounted to $358,028, according to the Mill Levy Committee, but this is really a one-time savings, explained Paschal. “We can’t save that much every year.”
Without additional funding, deeper cuts are expected, school officials said, leading to a diminished educational experience. Boosters are hopeful that the community will step in and help.
The next presentations will be at the Mancos Library on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and on Oct. 30 at 6 p.m.